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How to play poor contracts

As we have been studying, the optimum strategies for declarer in a trump contract can be categorised into the following:

(1) Draw trumps straight away.
(2) Cash/set up overlapping winner(s) for quick discard(s).
(3) Set up a long side-suit, to promote length winners.
(4) Ruff in the short-trump hand (typically dummy).
(5) Crossruff.

Sometimes the deal doesn’t fall conveniently into one of these categories though, particularly if your contract is somewhat unsavoury. Perhaps the best general heading to cover such situations is:

(6) Scrambling.

This deal is one such non-optimum contract, and 3♥ looks a long, long way away. There are three diamond losers and at least two trump losers.

East Deals
None Vul
A J 9 3
10 8 5 4 2
A Q 7
Q 10 6 2
Q 8
K J 6
10 8 3 2
W   E
K 8 7 5
K 9 7 6
J 9 5
A J 10 5 3 2
9 7 3
K 6 4
West North East South
    1 NT 2 ♥1
Pass 2 NT2 Pass 3 ♥
Pass Pass Pass  
  1. Just worth a Two-level overcall, because
    of the fine suit.
  2. Hoping for more strength opposite. Pass
    might be wiser though, on a likely misfit.


What happened
Declarer won Trick One with  A, and led  4 to  J. West won  Q and switched to  8. Winning  K, declarer cashed  A and led  2, hoping for an even split. It was not to be. East won  9, cashed  K, and switched to  A then  Q. West overtook  Q with  K, and cashed  J. Down two.

What should have happened
Declarer should adopt a scrambling approach, trying to score as many low trumps in hand by ruffing spades. The lead of the two from West, plus the lack of opposing spade bidding, suggests the suit is splitting 4-4 and that no one will overruff when you ruff spades. Win  A and ruff  3. Cross to  Q and ruff  9; cross to  A and ruff  J (both opponents following). Cash  K, and cut loose with a diamond. The defence can cash three diamonds, but your last three cards are  AJ10, and, with the opponents leading, you are guaranteed two tricks. By scoring your three low trumps, you have secured five trump tricks. Nine tricks and game made.

If you remember one thing...
Adopt a more fluid, scrambling approach in poor contracts.

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